- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2017

A settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit brought against Facebook in 2013 after years of litigation surrounding the social network’s former practice of scanning its users’ private messages for advertising purposes.

Facebook and attorneys for two of its users, Matthew Campbell and Michael Hurley, reached an agreement in San Francisco federal court Wednesday, pending the approval of a district court judge.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs sued Facebook in 2013 after learning the company had intercepted their private messages in order to deliver targeted ads to account holders based on the content of their conversations.

The plaintiffs claimed the practice amounted to violations of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act as well as California’s Invasion of Privacy Act, and asked a federal court judge to grant an injunction barring Facebook from mining data from its users’ messages.

Both sides reached a settlement in December 2016 following six months of negotiations, the details of which were disclosed for the first time in a legal filing entered Wednesday in San Francisco federal court.

Facebook already reined in its contentious message-scanning practice during the course of litigation, the motion said, and will soon add a disclaimer to its website acknowledging the company uses “tools to identify and store links shared in messages, including a count of the number of times links are shared.”

“The settlement achieves significant business practice changes, and benefits the settlement class now … without the inherent risks of continued litigation and without requiring Class Members to release any claims they may have for monetary relief,” according to a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement entered by the plaintiffs’ attorneys Wednesday.

“The Settlement was only reached after months of discovery and arm’s-length negotiations and enjoys the support of a neutral mediator who had an integral part in the settlement negotiations. Consequently, the Settlement satisfies the criteria for preliminary approval,” wrote Hank Bates, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

The proposed settlement only covers claims for declaratory, injunctive and non-monetary relief, however, meaning class members other than the plaintiffs — potentially millions of Facebook users located within the U.S. — may still be able to seek compensation of their own from Facebook, Courthouse News reported.

Attorneys for Mr. Campbell and Mr. Hurley, meanwhile, are expected to reap upwards of $3.23 million in attorney fees, MediaPost reported.

A hearing has been scheduled for April 12 before U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton is the Northern District of California, at which point she’ll decide whether or not to authorize the proposed settlement.

Neither Mr. Bates nor attorneys for Facebook immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday, Courthouse News said.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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